Brownie Points: Colorful considerations of race, class, and community

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.  —Plato

It’s true.  It’s also true that the ‘everyone’ of whom Plato is speaking includes me, and you, and each of us.  This makes his admonition all the more challenging because there are two edges to it: be kind…right in the midst of fighting your own battles.  It’s tough to be kind when I’m in the trenches, dealing with my own pains and poverty, be they emotional, physical, relational, financial, spiritual.  I need to work it out, get through it, overcome.  If you’re like me, that means focusing: on me, my pain, and getting rid of it.  Fixate on the pain though, and here’s the irony:  I’ll not only fail to find solutions… I’ll inflict pain on others, intentionally or unintentionally.

These weighty themes are artfully woven into a lighthearted comedy currently making its west-coast debut here in Seattle entitled: Brownie Points.  Set in Forsyth County (yes… of Forsyth County fame), the play gives us a front-row sit for the dialogue of five women joined together because their daughters are all part of the same Girl Scout troop.  They’ve come together for a camping weekend, and the moms are diverse: Jewish, African-American, divorced, and a WASP mom whose son is handicapped.  The mix is a blend of comedy and poignant, challenging realities waiting to happen—and they do.

Playwright Janece Shaffer creates marvelous textures to each of these women, drawing us into the their stories.  Reminiscent of the movie Crash, we’re introduced to them most often through their weaknesses and foibles: a short temper, an obsession for approval, a lust for control.  I find myself putting people in boxes and labeling them, understanding their mutual lack of kindness to each other, so artfully and humorously displayed onstage. Insensitive. Thoughtless. Hurtful. Afraid. These are the adjectives that objectify and judge, that dismiss us from hearing each other.

It’s the presence of a thunderstorm that forces the women to peel back the protective layers we think we need in order to fight our battles.  What they discover, with the layers peeled back, is a more profound knowing—a knowing that explains the layers, exposes the pain, and becomes the environment in which empathy and, eventually, compassion, can survive.

Set in 2011, Brownie Points exposes the reality that just under the surface of our self-perceived enlightenment and open-mindedness, the issues of living together as people with different roots remain challenging and, when faced squarely, unresolved.  By the end of the play there’s been, not resolution and absolute solidarity (can there ever be?)—but there’ve been steps taken in the right direction: listening, vulnerability, compassion.  And next steps, it seems, is what we all seem to need.

If you’re in Seattle…I’d recommend a visit to Taproot Theatre soon!  Tickets and showtimes here.

P.S. I was privileged to interview Scott and Pam Nolte after the arsonist fire that closed the Taproot building in the fall of 2009.  The story of their creativity and perseverance in blessing our world is shared in my new book, The Colors of Hope, available through Amazon and at booksellers everywhere.  I’ll be doing a book signing at 4PM on June 18th.

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  • Judy Becerril

    Hi, I saw this and really appreciate how you are able to articulate the teaching moments. Now to pass this on to the friend who invited me to Brownie Points.
    Thanks, Judy Becerril

  • Aaron

    I read this in the lobby of a hotel just after I had been told that there was a mistake with my reservation and I wasn’t expected for another few days. Oh, and the hotel is all booked up. Its also Friday night in a major city and the chance of finding another hotel in the area was looking real bad. They were going to see what they could do. I was pretty angry but I hadn’t said anything regrettable yet and like anyone else now days with a few extra seconds I pulled out my phone. The first sentence I read was Plato’s quote and I was immediately humbled when I realized how small my situation was compared to the price I wanted this hotel staff to pay with my forthcoming opinion. Extremely thankful for this great reminder of kindness especially during a laughable crisis moment.